By Kyle Barr
A Commack street now bears the name of a U.S. Marine who lost his life in 2010 from the battle against post-traumatic stress disorder.
Town of Smithtown officials, local veteran groups and the Blanco family gathered July 1 on Wichard Boulevard in Commack to watch the unveiling of the sign dedicating a portion of roadway in memory of Lance Corporal Michael E. Blanco. It was erected on the street where Blanco grew up.
“It means to us that every time someone looks at that sign, they’ll remember however Michael touched their lives,” Blanco’s sister, Nicole Blanco-Abbate, said.
Those who knew Blanco recalled him as a selfless man who wouldn’t hesitate to do things for others. Blanco’s father, Bruce, remembered how when his son attended high school the young man asked for more lunch money, commenting that he was “a growing boy.” Later, he learned Blanco was giving that extra money anonymously to the kids who couldn’t afford lunch.
“My son was always known as the protector – he was the one who came out of nowhere to help people,” Blanco’s father said. “I get constant phone calls from his friends of what he’s done to help them. He stood up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves.”
The Blanco family said they were humbled when nearly 100 people showed up to the ceremony at the intersection of Wichard Boulevard and Philson Court in support including including Suffolk County officials, members of the American Legion Ladies Post 1244, Smithtown and Nesconset Fire Departments, AM Vets, the Patriot Guard Riders, Missing in America Project, Veterans for Freedom, American Legion riders and American Legion Auxiliary Greenlawn Chapter 1244.
“There were so many people there, from small kids all the way to veterans in their 70s and 80s,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “This type of dedication leads to more acceptance. It shows there has to be something done about soldiers with PTSD.”
In September 2017, the U.S. Office of Veteran Affairs released a report on suicides amongst veterans of the armed services based on 55 million record dating from 1979 to 2014. It found that an average of 20 veterans die from suicide every day. PTSD is the leading cause of death for veterans and military service members.
“He still was a soldier – he still was a veteran,” Blanco’s mother, Donna, said. “With this sign, we are bringing awareness to the 22 veterans who die every day from PTSD.”
Both of Blanco’s parents agreed that this dedication does much to help the community remember their son and the struggles he faced.
“The worst fear a mother has when a son dies is that he won’t be remembered,” Blanco’s mother said. “Now I know my son will forever be memorialized and he will always be remembered.“
Bruce Blanco said he became involved the American Legion Riders Chapter 1244 after his son passed away, and he is now leading them as their president. Since then, the riders have been involved in many veterans memorials and events all around the Huntington and Smithtown areas. The chapter also participates in the Missing in America Project that tries to give proper military funerals to those veterans who died without family or who remain unremembered.
“One of the worst things for anyone is to ever be forgotten,” Blanco’s father said. “Everything throughout Smithtown is a remembrance for us, and this sign just adds to onto it.”